Tips to Help You Focus Better
There are few things that every human, regardless of mental wellness or job type, agrees on. And one of those things is this: focusing all the time isn’t easy.
Of course, for people with certain mental illnesses, like anxiety or ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), focus can be a lot harder. But everyone has issues with focus, whether they only occur sometimes or it's a struggle constantly. And many people feel lost about how to help themselves.
Some might tell you to just “clear your mind and focus on the task ahead of you, or the world around you.” But for many people, that simply doesn’t work, because that’s not how our brains work. So instead, let’s look at some different ways that you can help yourself when you feel like you need to focus better.
Give yourself breaks
If you’re trying to focus on work or schoolwork, and you are able to, it can be helpful to give yourself breaks. Our minds aren’t made to focus on one thing for hours on end, unless that thing is stimulating and exciting (like video games, movies, books, or crafts). So taking small “brain breaks” every now and then can give your mind a chance to refresh.
It can be good to work, or study, in 40-60 minute increments, with a 5-15 minute break in between. But it’s different for everyone, so play around with it and see what helps you the most.
Go easy on yourself
Sometimes, an inability to focus can have a deeper message. It can be your body’s way of telling you that you’re pushing yourself too hard, and that you need to take a break or slow down. So next time you’re really struggling to focus better, take a moment to listen to your body, and think: am I pushing too hard, or is this something else?
If you don’t feel like you’re pushing too hard, then try some of these other tips. But if you are, acknowledge it, and try to go easier on yourself, or even take a break altogether if you can. And it’s also important to recognize that sometimes you just won’t be able to focus very well no matter what you try, and that’s ok.
Remove (most) distractions
Contrary to popular belief, removing every distraction from your workplace may not help you, especially if you have something like ADHD. Some distractions, such as a small fidget toy or hourglass can help you recenter your mind and focus better.
Instead, try to remove the larger distractions that will definitely get in the way of your work. This can mean other people, a list of chores that need doing, a video game console, or anything else that won’t help recenter your mind on work— it will take your mind elsewhere.
Forget social media
I know, I know, it’s hard. But if you want to improve focus, one of the first things to try is to stay off social media.
Everything about social media, from its colors and layout to content and people, is designed to draw you in and keep you there. It’s easy to “just go on for a minute” and be lost for an hour. So try to stay off of it when you need to focus, even when you’re taking breaks.
If this is hard for you, try starting with something small. Don’t say you won’t go on social media at all today. Instead, say that you’ll stay off of it for 30 minutes, and then work your way up from there.
Our olfactory senses, the ones that detect smells, are potentially the strongest sense we have. Scents can trigger nostalgia and other effects on the brain much more vividly than sights or sounds. And certain scents can also really help you when you need to focus on work.
These scents can come in whatever form you like— scented candles, essential oils, wax pods, or anything else. Try out some of these scents the next time you want to focus better:
Lemon, or any citruses. Citruses wake up your mind and help it stay focused.
Pineapple. Also a citrus, but it deserves its own point because pineapple is a scent that I find really helps with focus.
Spearmint. This can help sharpen your mind, keep you focused, and has other benefits.
Cinnamon. On top of helping you focus, it also makes you feel warm and cozy!
Create a separate workspace
If you need help with focus for work or school, then creating a separate space to do those activities could really help you. This helps your brain get in the mindset of working on that one activity, making it easier to focus.
Of course, some people aren’t able to do this. But if you are, you can dedicate any amount of space you want, and that space will be just for working. It can be a whole room, a certain corner, or even just one chair that you sit in for activities that you really need to focus on.
This can really help you focus better, as well as separate work from home.
If you have trouble focusing and sitting still, a fidget tool can help you stay centered. It gives you something to play with, so you can release that energy, without having to turn away from work entirely. You can get something made especially for this, or just find something small that helps you, like some Play Doh or a rubber band.
Caffeine— but not a lot
Sometimes, you just need a quick pick-me-up so you can focus better. Caffeine can help you with this, but you should only have it in small doses.
High amounts of caffeine can have serious effects on your body. And over time, drinking a lot of caffeine will worsen your health and potentially cause other problems. So while it may help you focus better short-term, you should be careful to not have too much. And if you want a smaller dose of caffeine, consider drinking tea instead of coffee. You can still get the boost you need but with less caffeine, and better flavors.
Using a focus app
There are dozens of apps out there designed to help you focus in one way or another, and many of them are worth checking out to see if they could work for you. Today, I’ll tell you about my personal favorite: Forest.
Forest is an app that helps you stay focused in a creative way, and it’s easy to use. You simply choose a tree for your virtual garden, select a time goal, and then hit plant. The plant will begin to grow— and if you try to open other apps, Forest will stop you, telling you that if you leave the app the plant will be killed. After the timer is up, you have a new tree in your garden!
I love gardening and can’t bring myself to purposefully kill a plant, so this app really helps me, and I know many other people who say the same thing. I’m actually using it while I write this! Plus, it rewards you for focusing: the more time you spend focused, the more coins you get, which you can then use to purchase new plants from the store!
And best of all, this is all free. There is a pro version, which only costs about $2 for a lifelong membership, but it isn’t necessary to get the benefits of the app. With the pro version, you can whitelist certain apps (so you can use them if you need them for work without killing your tree), and you can also help Forest plant real trees! They just reached one million real trees planted, and they’re still going. So this one app can help you focus better and have a positive impact on the planet. I highly recommend it, but if it isn’t right for you, I’m sure there are apps out there that will be.
Focus, focus, focus
Staying focused isn’t easy, as I’m sure you already know. And these are just some of the many, many ways that you can help yourself focus better when you need to. Try some of them out, or find your own, and you just might find a solution to this problem that really works for you.
Do you have other ways you like to stay focused? Do you love Forest and want to share your forest with us? Let us know by leaving a comment, or mention us on social media (@llctherapeutic on Twitter and @therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram)!